The following is a comment I tried to post on Ben Witherington's blog. I was responding to a fellow commenter who had brought up the points that I touch on.
Witherington declined to publish it, saying it was just a diatribe (an abusive denunciation). Here it is. I 'll let the reader be the judge of how abusive I was. I publish it here now in the interest of full disclosure and to show just how insular these apologist types really are. Shame on him for calling me abusive.
This comment goes out to derek (speaker for the dead)in particular, but if you think that his "assesment" is "fair", then this is for you as well.
You are correct in insisting that Paul's intent was probably not to tell the whole story in his epistles. They are letters to specific communities dealing with specific organizational and doctrinal issues, and as such, we should not expect that he "pass on the whole story" in every letter. This however has no bearing on this argument, for the simple reason that no one (not Doherty, not Carrier, not Wells, not Baur, not Bultmann, not Allegard, not Price, nor anyone else.) has made the argument that Paul must do this in order to support J's historicity. What you are doing, D, here is setting up what is known in the study of rhetoric as a "straw man". (For another germane example of a strawman, read the last paragraph of this comment). But in fact, this is not the kind of corroboration that is needed.
The total pauline silence regarding J's biographical information (or, more importanly-and I see you agree with me on this already-his teaching!) is so important here because, had Paul been familiar with the story of J's life and teachings as outlined in the gospels, he would have reflected some modicum of knowledge of this outline. But, in fact, in some cases, a gospel detail is contradicted by what Paul writes.
An example by way of a serious question:
If, as Rom 1:4, Phil 2:6-11, Acts 2:36, and Acts 3:26 preserve, Christians once (very early on) believed that J had become Messiah as of his resurrection, then all passages that have him claiming messiahship must be judged spurious. One is of course free to harmonize these, but I've yet to see a convincing harmonization on this, one that does not seem contrived, ad hoc, or blatantly apologetic. Such harmonization seems like an escape-hatch approach that solves the problem by convincing itself that no problem exists.
Additionally, had Paul known the gospel story and accepted it as accurate, he would have had no need to expound on some of the things that he so floridly expounds on in his letters, things that are attested to in the gospel story and which therefore should have been presumably settled by J himself.
An example of this, by way of a serious question (and again, there are several):
Why would Paul have needed to update J's ruling on marriage and divorce? (an "update", incidentally, which is really a conceding to the "hardness of heart" that J explicitly attributes to an "old school" of thought-this "update" by Paul is really a regression, a repealment)
"J said it, I believe it!" doesn't seem to be the viewpoint of Christians who you and Dr.W here seem to think already knew the story and therefore needed no refresher from Paul. You can harmonize these if you want, but I've yet to see a compelling harmonization (or even a dispassionate one).
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From this point on I can't quote my comment verbatim because I didn't save the final last couple of paragraphs (I didn't anticipate that W wouldn't publish it—this surprised and disappoint me . . .
So the rest is paraphrased as best as I can remember:
I made some comments about the nature of study-about how study is honest inquiry and not sycophantic acceptance of doctrinal teachings (there will be a quiz on Wednesday and all that jazz). The latter is "training", not "study." One must honestly explore where the trail of evidence leads. Otherwise, though it may be theology, it most certainly does NOT fall under the discipline of "history."
I understand why so many orthodox believers are so alarmed by the implications of the mythicist hypotheses, and I realize that suspending belief is just as difficult as suspending disbelief, and that it sounds abrasive and caustic to the pious, and that it is highly unlikely that this volley will change anyone's mind on these matters.
But, though it might seem like it to someone who is sensitive and defensive in their faith, the mythicist position is not an attack of any kind, but instead it is a realization that the story is even weirder than we had imagined.
Like many of the commenters on W's blog, I find things like Acharya S, and Frieke-Gandy's book, Dan Brown's outright fiction, and the truly horrible Zeitgeist film to be utter crap. But, I honestly feel that the lumping of Doherty (and other more legitimate scholars like Price and Carrier) into the same sloppy-research camp is just misinformed at best and disingenuous and malicious at worst. All it would take on the part of anyone interested in this is to compare Zeitgeist's documented sources with Doherty's bibliography.
In the last paragraph I made reference to a chatter named Pearse who was trying to build a strawman out of an obscure work of Tertullian's.
I assure you it never veered from courtesy (albeit disagreeing) in my comment, so any decision to not publish it was based on something other than belligerence or vulgarity or ad hominems.
Witherington either finds my comment dangerous (which is just silly) and thinks it is worth censoring OR he thinks I am in error about something (in which case, I am not above correction, sir) OR otherwise merely disagreeing is enough to block someone's honest response to an open forum.
Is this what Jesus would do?
I'll not mention him again . . . but the above is a perfect final example of why I think Ben Witherington III is an irrelevant scholar. He's not just transparently apologetic, he is also dishonest.